While the road toll may be the focus of many reports you read this weekend, there is another silent toll which is taking more lives.
Suicide numbers are climbing in this country and it is time to do something about it .
The fact of the matter is that we can have an impact on those numbers if we just talk to those around us.
As families sit down to celebrate the Easter weekend, it is the perfect opportunity to check on those close to us.
Alarming Australian Bureau of Statistics figures show a rise across the state from 519 suicide deaths in 2013 to 646 deaths in 2014. It’s a figure which far outweighs the state’s road toll which sits at 248 for the same year.
Lifeline Ballarat manager Kellie Dunn believes simply having the discussion can have a major impact on cutting suicide numbers.
“We know that not talking about it will actually increase the risks of suicide, so it just makes sense having those courageous conversations and inspiring people to talk about their mental health in a safe place is great,” she said.
“You do not have to have all the answers in asking. We know we can help that person by linking them into support where they can get that guidance and work with a professional knowing you are supporting from the sidelines.
“Easter is a time that families make time to go away together and it is an ideal time to have a courageous conversation.”
While many experts in the field believed the stigma surrounding suicide is slowly fading, new figures show the community is clearly still grappling with how best to do deal with the problem.
“I think we are (removing the stigma slightly),” Ms Dunn said.
“The only way we reduce it even further is by having people brave enough to have those conversations. As health care professionals we have them every day. We wouldn’t be having the volume of those conversations if people were jumping in on the early warning signs
“The more prevention work we do, rather than intervention work, the better for that person.”
Ms Dunn readily admits the conversation isn’t an easy one to have. She recommends approaching it by asking someone how they are feel about themselves on a scale of one to 10.
“You don't have to have all the right answers, it is just about saying ‘where are you at right now?’” she said.
“If someone says they are feeling a one out of 10, we are creating the conversation and have the responsibility to link that person into help.
“You do not have to be responsible for that person’s mental health but if you help draw them to support by having that courageous conversation then be prepared to assist in finding where that person can be linked into and get some help. If you already have an inkling someone is not okay and you want to have a chat with them over Easter, then jump on the Beyond Blue website or the Lifeline website and have a look. There are great resources about how to approach the conversation.”
On June 16, 2009 Pamela McGregor woke and prepared for work like any other day.
But it wasn’t like any other day. It was the day she found her son, Mark, had taken his own life.
Almost seven years onn the pain is still very raw for Pamela, who admits that you never fully move on.
“My life was turned upside down,” she said.
“I didn’t know. We had a talk on the Monday night and I found him on Tuesday morning when I was going out to the car to go to work.”
Pamela is only one of a huge number of loved ones left behind by those who chose to end their own life.
Mark was 18 at the time of his death. He had completed year 12 and was studying computers. He was a volunteer at the fire brigade.
“He was bullied at school, but schools don't tell you that. I found out from friends,” she said.
“That probably started it ... he split up with the girlfriend and all of those those things culminated.
“He left me a lovely letter. He didn’t write letters, but he must have been thinking about it.”
Pamela believes if the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide wasn’t as strong, her son may have been more open to talking about the problems he was facing.
“… to realise that we all have the same problems and everyone sorts through their problems differently, but we need someone to talk to about it,” she said. “It doesn’t go away if we don’t talk about it.”
Pamela admits she has had her own battles since her son’s death.
“There are people who are out there that can help, but you have to make the effort to help yourself as well,” she said. “You just find everyday people, workmates and people don't always understand.
“You have to go to work some days and put on a mask and then come home and have a cry if you want to.”
The stigma surrounding suicide also makes it difficult for friends, according to Pamela, who said many found it hard to talk about or understand the grief.
“You don’t want it every day. When it first happened all of my friends were around me, but they move on and you never move on. They just slowly disappear,” she said.
Pamela said those left behind were often not on the minds of those contemplating suicide. But she wished they were, as it may be the changing point in a crisis situation.
“My son lived and he was part of our family and that is the hard thing. When you go to family events, weddings, Christmas, part of your family is missing and always will be,” she said.
“There is help out there, seek it, look for it because it won't come looking for you.”
Two days before her husband took his life, Kristy Steenhuis knew something was wrong.
She repeatedly asked her husband is he was OK and if she could help him.
“I had a gut feeling in his demeanour that he was going to kill himself,” she said.
“But, because of the myths and stigma surrounding suicide I thought that if I brought it up he would do it, I never said a word.”
“One of the reasons I have gone on and done so much training in suicide prevention and awareness is because I will not ever have that moment of regret again for not asking that question.”
Ms Steenhuis founded Ballarat’s only suicide and bereavement support service, Survivors of Suicide. She said it was crucial that families had the discussion about suicide. “Your families are the ones that are there 99 per cent of the time, if your family is not comfortable to speak about it, how are strangers and removed friends able to ask that question?” she said. Anyone wanting more information on the service can call Ms Steenhuis on 0427762929.
Tania Bentin didn't see the death of her brother coming.
David Bentin, according to his sister, always had a smile on his face.
“He was one of those people you have in your life, he just kept us all really close,” she said.
“I am one of five, I am the oldest and he is in the middle and he was just the one who was there for everyone.
“He was always smiling and that is what I have come to realise a lot of people are really suffering and you can’t see that.
“In all of the photos there is a point where you can see he has lost a bit of that spark, so it was a shock that he felt he was in so much pain that he felt like his family would be better off without him.”
David took his life in 2014 in New Zealand.
Tania said she wished people were more open to talking about mental health and suicide and was hopeful government would consider investing more funding into addressing the issues.
“It is hard to know what you might have said that might have helped or if it would have helped,” she said.
“But I think people are coming to realise that if someone reaches out to you and and says they are having a tough time, it is something to take seriously. This whole toughen up, harden up mentality is not doing anyone any favors.
“He was suffering but we didn't realise the extent it.
“The more we talk about it and normalise it the better, the numbers are rising, it is more than the road toll.
“We have to do something about it.”
The number of reported suicide deaths is more than double the road toll and the latest figures show an annual increase in total deaths.
“I just think they (the government) put all of this money into bringing the road toll down, why can’t we do something, why cant we put some of that towards such a big thing (like suicide).”
David was the father to three children.
“Being from a big close family it has really shaken us, we lost Dad in April (2014) and he had a heart attack, that is a different type of grief,” Tania said.
“He had a heart attack and that sort of loss is more familiar to us. Most people have lost a grandparent or someone close to us, but I don’t know if losing David was so much harder because we were already grieving the loss of dad.
“You try to come to terms with why but you can never answer those questions and everyone is left behind with the whys and what could I have done?
“It is not that I have accepted what happened and I miss him every day. But you can not change what has happened and that is the big realisation.
“That is the thing with suicide, it is the devastation that you leave behind.”
HEADSPACE continues to see a large number of Ballarat youths seeking assistance each and every month.
The centre’s manager Jacqui White said staff saw an average of 80 to 100 new referrals every month.
“Definitely I would say more often than not, a person will come in and has been harming themselves or indicating their suicidal intent and sometimes an actual plan or an attempt,” she said. “Often it is that they don't know who to talk to because for whatever reason they think what is going on for them is odd, or lots of young people use the word crazy, or ‘somebody will think I am crazy if I tell them’.
“I think that is why with headspace, with that anonymity, we do attract so many young people.
“This is the one place they can have that conversation and we can let them know they are not alone.”
In many cases Ms White said it was important that if family and friends do notice a change in behaviour, they are comfortable in talking about the subject of mental health and potentially suicide.
“The key message is, say it is family or a friend and they are not sure what to do, then getting help so they can help others,” she said. “Any caregiver to a young person who is not sure what to do, we can act as that conduit.
“If they can’t get the young person out of their bedroom or get them to talk we can help with that. Making sure whatever caring person knows the steps they can go through to help that person.
“When someone does have their darkest moments, it might be in the middle of the night, but they should know there are all night services that they can call or websites that they can go to.”
She also said it was important to work at trying to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health and suicide by being able to talk about those things more freely. “There is always somebody whatever time of the day and there is always hope for recovery. Whatever a person is going through it might not seem like there are options but once you get to the right place we can make sure they get the right kind of support.”
You are not alone. There are a wide variety of numbers friends and family can call as well as those who might be thinking about suicide. If you think someone may be suicidal ask them. If they say yes, do not leave them alone. Link them with professional help.
Lifeline: 13 11 14 or visit: lifeline.org.au
Beyond Blue 1300 224 636 or visit: beyondblue.org.au
Suicide Callback Service: 1300 659 467
Mens line: 1300 789 978 or visit: mensline.org.au
Emergency Services: 000 (Triple zero)
Kids Help Line: 1800 551 800
Ballarat And District Suicide Prevention Network Inc: 0458 913 459 or visit: suicidepreventionballarat.com.au
Relationships Australia: 1800 050 321
headspace Ballarat: 5304 4777
Parentline Australia: 1300 301 300
SANE Helpline: 1800 187 263
QLife: 1800 184 527 (Support for gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender and intersex communities.)
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